Today we made history. Some of our greatest Congressional champions for LGBTQ equality on Capitol Hill – Senators Jeff Merkley, Tammy Baldwin and Cory Booker and Congressman David Cicilline and civil rights icon John Lewis – introduced the Equality Act, a comprehensive bill that will add protections for the LGBTQ community to existing civil rights statutes. This bill, when passed, will provide LGBTQ people and our families with comprehensive nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federal funding, access to credit and jury service. The bill is broad, sweeping, necessary and historic.
Even with nationwide marriage equality, LGBTQ people and our families remain vulnerable across all aspects of our daily lives. We can get married on Saturday night and when we return to our everyday lives on Monday morning we can still be fired from our jobs, evicted from our homes, denied service in a restaurant and our children can still be bullied in school simply because we of who we are, who we love, how our families were formed and what our parents look like. Now more than ever, we need comprehensive federal protections that are clear and consistent.
Some may ask why we are taking this “new” approach to protections for the LGBTQ community when, for years, we have supported and advocated for stand-alone bills that would provide the same kinds of protections that we are now seeking with the Equality Act. Along with all of the progress that the LGBTQ movement has seen over the last handful of years has come a dramatic rise in support for LGBTQ equality by the general public. This public support has provided us with great momentum – but it has also energized our opponents. We have seen a striking increase in the introduction of anti-LGBTQ legislation at both the state and federal levels as well as an increase in anti-LGBTQ litigation, most of which uses religion to justify discrimination against our community. It has become clear that the only way to ensure that LGBTQ people and our families are afforded the exact same protections as other covered groups is simply to add sexual orientation and gender identity into existing federal laws.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is perhaps the most significant piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted. It outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (in most contexts except for public accommodations), and national origin. It is not easy to amend existing laws, and with the introduction of the Equality Act comes a tremendous responsibility. The LGBTQ community intersects with every class of people already protected by the 1964 law and we must work closely with our partners and allies in other civil rights communities to ensure that protections already afforded through the Civil Rights Act are not in any way diminished by our attempts to expand its coverage.
We owe a great debt to the champions of civil rights who came before us, and as we take this next step on our journey towards greater equality, we must take our obligation to “do no harm” seriously. It must remain foremost in our minds as we work to pass the Equality Act. Because only by working together with our civil rights allies can LGBTQ people come that much closer to true legal and lived equality.